Kate on Conservation

Facebook group rallies to free forgotten lions in Ukraine

Warriors of Wildlife Ukraine lion in concrete enclosure

Once in a while you hear a story that demonstrates the positive power of social media – and in this case, a network of strangers passionate about lions came together online to help give four lions the chance of a new life.

A few months back, I heard about ‘A Tale of Four Lions’, where lion lovers formed a coalition via a Facebook group called Abolish Trophy and Canned Hunting International to and help raise the funds to relocate four ex-zoo lions kept in abhorrent conditions.

The rescue: lions: Cecil, Xanda, Joy and Akera. The lions were rescued by Warriors of Wildlife from zoos, circus, and private owner’s in and around Ukraine.

Unfortunately, there is never a shortage of lions to rescue. Once they become of a certain age and are no longer cute and cuddly, rather reckless and dangerous to handle, they are often beaten, abused, starved, and left for dead.  “A Tail of Four Lions” are the lucky ones.  They will be relocated to their native land of South Africa.

At Love Lions Alive Sanctuary in Free State, South Africa, they will need to discover their ROAR, learn to walk and eventually run, build their muscles and learn to jump. The destiny of these lion’s future is to feel dirt beneath their feet, and have the African sun basking down on them for the first times in their lives as they will live the rest of their lives with dignity.

Lion Rescue and Relocation Work

At the heart of this mission is South African-born Lionel de Lange, who runs Warriors of Wildlife. I was curious to learn more about his rescue work, particularly as the lions he rescues are from Ukraine.

Name: Lionel de Lange

Organisation: Warriors of Wildlife

Location: Ukraine

How did you come to be a lion rescuer?

I’ve always been an animal lover, but I was already living in Ukraine in 2014 when Ex-President Yanukovich was ousted and all funding to non-essential services was cut, which included zoos.

I don’t like zoos at all, but the animals at our local Nikolaev Zoo were on the brink of starvation and I knew I needed to do something — that’s how it started. We went from getting together some funds for food and meds to doing full on rescue and relocations.

Do you have any special memories of lions that you’ve helped?

There are many special moments but I think it has to be our first lion rescue when we had to cut open their cage to get them out as it had been welded shut for years. Taking them out of that dirty uncleaned cage and putting them into a temporary enclosure where they could play and run was really special.

But then there is Luke who spent nearly 2 years in a circus travel crate and now has a beautiful enclosure in South Africa and he found a mate. That’s also very special.

Luke, prior to his release at Love Lions Alive

I understand that Luke now lives at Love Lions Alive in South Africa — can you tell me a bit about the sanctuary?

LLA is located in the mountains at Swinburne, Freestate. The sanctuary is owned and operated by Andi and Line who have committed their lives to saving lions. They have 25 cats and all live in excellent species appropriate enclosures with ample food and veterinary care if needed.

It sounds like the life they so deserve. Tell me about ‘A Tale of Four Lions’…

‘A Tale of Four Lions’ was the name given to a fundraising campaign launched by Wild Africa Foundation and the Abolish Trophy and Canned Hunting International Facebook group – an amazing group of ladies — to help raise the funds to get the Ukrainian lions; Cecil, Xanda, Joy and Akera home to South Africa.

Cecil, Xanda and Joy were confiscated from a private zoo where they lived in extremely bad conditions. When Cecil was no longer useful to his owner, like many other animals in Ukraine they are discarded and sold off or given away to whoever may want them. He was taken in by a very cruel man, Igor Padalko who was supposedly creating a zoo and rehab center.

Life in a tiny travel crate

Cecil ended living in a small travel crate of 1.5m x 1,5m with no protection from the elements and also fed a very bad diet. We are not 100% sure where Xanda and Joy come from but we have been told they were taken in as very young cubs to be used for interaction and like the others lived in extremely bad conditions.

Akera was privately owned and lived in a cage in the backyard of a private house. Her owner decided to sell his house and left her behind. The new owners arrived around 10 days later to find a very stressed, sick and hungry lion waiting for them. They did not want her and we were called.

Added to this now is a 5th lion cub called Nala who was also taken from her mother at just a few days old and sold to someone as a pet. We first became aware of her when we saw news reports of her being paraded around a nightclub with some rich people who thinking owning a lion is cool. Through activists in Odessa they were tracked down and Nala was removed and now we will bring her home.

What kind of life might Cecil, Xanda, Joy and Akera experience if they’re successfully re-located?

Any life that that Cecil, Xanda, Joy and Akera get now will be far better than the life they have until now. They will have space to run, rocks to laze on in the sun, shelter from the elements and love. Now is their time to be lions…

What does the future hold for Warriors of Wildlife?

I’m trying to secure some land in South Africa to start a sanctuary for abused wild animals and then we will do local rescues as well. I’m also trying to find land in Ukraine for a sanctuary as its getting very expensive to relocate all the way to South Africa.

If you’d like to learn more about and support their work, head to: https://www.wowukraine.org/donations or https://www.facebook.com/wowukr/

Click here to join the Abolish Trophy and Canned Hunting International Facebook group

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